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Government Shutdown: What Are IT Systems Risks?

If the looming government shutdown comes to pass, Federal IT faces security, budget, and workflow risks.

"I'm assuming there's a core set of IT people designated as essential in order for them to serve the other essential employees. The last shutdown we didn't go home," Evans said. "I'd like to think they all have their plans, that everything's in place ... because this is what FISMA was supposed to be looking at."

When OMB issued a memo providing planning guidance in advance of a "potential lapse in appropriations" on Sept. 17, the directive made no direct mention of staffing IT operations. Instead, it focused on which of a limited number of essential government functions much be supported -- such as national defense, public safety and programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, even if their funding ceases.

"There isn't any guidance from [the Office of Personnel Management] or OMB on the subject [of IT operations] that I know of," said a senior IT adviser at one federal agency. "My guess is that if someone is deemed crucial to supporting services or programs that involved life-sustaining or emergency activities, and probably most crucial folks in cyber defenses, they'll probably be exempted."

[ How will a shutdown affect Obamacare? Read Tech Glitches Trip Obamacare Exchange Launches. ]

Another complicated dimension of the shutdown is how to handle IT procurements. There is always a rush of spending at the end of a fiscal year, as agencies make purchases in order to not lose allocated funds. But combining that with a shutdown brings added risks, said Forman.

"There are many end-of-year contracting actions that are clogged for a number of reasons this year, and the people who are orchestrating the shutdown prioritization and communication decisions are not available to perform the end-of-year actions," said Forman. That can lead to a higher risk that more contracting actions will be "done wrong or not done" and result in "decision errors or miscommunication to the IT contractors."

Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, agrees with that assessment.

"If you have a clogged system and you don't have sufficient acquisition folks working, it's just going to make the clogging worse," he said. "If [the shutdown] is just a day or two, it won't be that bad. If it's longer, like the one in 1996 that was 22 days, it will be much worse."

Davis said the government stands to lose a minimum of a billion dollars, and it could be several billion, because of the costs associated with shutting down and starting up operations along with associated delays.

He offered some advice to the IT professionals who will be wrestling with both keeping systems functional and protecting them.

"Just keep doing your job. There's a lot of dysfunction in the government right now," he said. "In the last shutdown when Congress was squabbling, the only adults were the government employees who just kept doing their jobs."

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User Rank: Author
9/30/2013 | 3:41:36 PM
re: Government Shutdown: What Are IT Systems Risks?
One of the challenges agencies face in deciding who stays on and who gets furloughed -- and why IT workers are often caught in limbo -- is that too often, agency CIOs don't have full visibility of IT workers across their agency. That's because agency programs managers still resort to using program vs IT funds, as a way to sidestep bureaucracy, and hire their own IT workers to support projects. On one hand, you have to applaud the ingenuity of leaders trying to move forward; on the other hand, it explains why reigning in duplicative IT spending in government is so hard. Either way, driving agencies to the brink of a shutdown is no way to manage an enterprise.
User Rank: Author
9/30/2013 | 4:47:11 PM
re: Government Shutdown: What Are IT Systems Risks?
"Davis said the government stands to lose a minimum of a billion dollars,
and it could be several billion, because of the costs associated with
shutting down and starting up operations along with associated delays."

An enterprise wouldn't put up with that kind of expense.
User Rank: Author
9/30/2013 | 9:42:56 PM
re: Government Shutdown: What Are IT Systems Risks?
You're right. But in this situation, you have Congress acting like a warring board of directors with 535 members that, sadly, is holding the enterprise and its employees hostage.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
10/1/2013 | 3:20:02 AM
re: Government Shutdown: What Are IT Systems Risks?
What's the worst case scenario if govt IT operations are shut down in a disorganized manner?
User Rank: Apprentice
10/10/2013 | 5:10:00 PM
re: Government Shutdown: What Are IT Systems Risks?
I am a contractor for a Federal Agency employed as a cyber security incident responder. During this shutdown, I am going without pay, and unlike Civil Service employees, there has been no bill passed by the House to reimburse contractors for their lost wages. I cannot be at my post - even without pay - because federal law prohibits me from working.

This situation creates a very serious danger for our nation caused by a convergence of factors:

1)The information systems of the United States Government are under continual attack from sophisticated and well-funded foreign governments. At this moment, practically no one is working to repel those attacks. We are in fact engaged in a cyber war right now with several nations. And at this moment G«Ű no one is guarding the fort.

2)Under normal circumstances, the US Government has a serious shortage of trained personnel to maintain countermeasures to those cyber attacks. Most of the personnel that do exist are now furloughed contractors, who have no hope of reimbursement once they return to work.

3) Since the private sector has a similar shortage of trained cyber security personnel, it behooves those of us who are employed as Federal contractors to seek more reliable employment elsewhere. This will only increase the personnel shortage and exacerbate the risks to the information systems that are an essential part of Federal Government operations.

I have no doubt that several hostile foreign governments are currently celebrating their unfettered freedom to compromise the security and operational integrity of the Federal GovernmentG«÷s computers and networks. And I am challenged to express in words how demoralizing it is to be considered G«£non-essentialG«• and to be summarily tossed off our jobs and told to eek out an existence without pay.

Those of us who work as cyber security contractors for the Federal Government are generally paid less than our counterparts in the private sector. Patriotism and pride in our mission is a large part of our compensation. But pride and patriotism wonG«÷t pay our bills, feed our children, or compensate for the lost wages caused by unreliable employment.
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